Decentralized Identity Starts With Owning Your Name

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The Web3 Metaverse is only possible with name ownership

Source: Medium

Author’s Note: This is Part 4 of my NFT series. Click here to read Part 1, where I document the rise of NFTs. And here for Part 2, where I talk about it as a foundation of the new world. And here for Part 3, where I talk about owning our social media content + social media as our digital identity.

Who are you?

I dare you to answer that without providing your name.

What even is a name?

It’s collection of sounds and syllables. Jim-my Chang.

What about my name in another language? What if I were Jaime in Spanish, or 张吉米 (weird name, I know) in Chinese? Do I identify as those names? Or am I just Jimmy Chang?

What about James? How about nicknames — Jimbo, Jim, J?

For me, a name is the key in a key-value pair that returns a slew of information about who you really are.

"Job": "Product Manager"
"Location": "San Francisco, CA"
"Hobbies": [
{
"Primary": "Backpacking",
"Second": "Fashion"
}
]

Note: Not the best JSON response I’ve made

My name is the identifier of a greater set of metadata that constitutes who I am. My job, my hobbies, my values, my relationships.

But you can’t be someone without that identifier — we need names to index people and organize them into lists in order to find them later. Or else everyone becomes someone in relation to other people.

“Who was that guy at the party last night?”

“Who?”

“I think he was your roommate’s girlfriend’s coworker at her last company”

“Uh, no idea — sorry”

TLDR; names are important for our identity.

So let’s pull on this name thread a little bit more, and bring back my previous posts about the Metaverse, Web3, and digital identity.

To recap, I think that our world will slowly move to the Metaverse — first as a place to socialize with other folks, and later as a form of second life where we live and do work as well.

In order for the Metaverse to truly be ours — and not owned by large corporations that mine our usage of it for advertisement money, we need to build the Metaverse on Web3 principles: open, decentralized, permissionless, censorship resistant.

That’s where NFTs come in: a way to trustlessly and verifiably ensure ownership of digital goods.

Meaning that if we want the Metaverse to be owned by the people, everything (and I mean everything) in the Metaverse has to be an NFT: the clothing, homes, museums, parks, land.

Just like how we own those things IRL, we can own them in a digital plane through NFTs.

But unlike IRL, in the digital world we also need to think about what it means to own our own identity.

Who we are is intrinsic in the real world. I’m Jimmy. When I was born, I was given a birth certificate from the state stating who I was.

Everyone who’s ever interacted with me knows who I am, because it was reflected in our interactions: my values, my mannerisms, my appearance.

That’s not the case in the Metaverse.

People can lie about who they are. People can impersonate famous people for clout or even to maliciously prey on others.

People can choose to show the best side of themselves online — depending on the context.

As I mentioned in my digital identity post:

Each [social media] platform shows a persona of us — different parts of our whole personality that we package into context-relevant interactions, whether it be dating, networking, showing off, etc… We care about how we look online because, during Covid, that has become our only way to interacting with the world outside of our homes.
Which profile is me? Or are they both me?

People can use a pseudonym — actively choosing to distance their real physical selves from their online avatar. Hell, people can even have multiple pseudonyms, just like how we have different profiles across social media platforms.

So in order to bring identity into the Metaverse, we need two conditions:

  1. Verification that you are who you say you are
  2. Consolidation of all of your disparate personas into one cohesive identity

We do that through NFTs: an NFT of your name.

In the Metaverse, you need to own your name — proving on the blockchain that you are who you say you are.

Going back to my earlier analogy, this name is the key in the key-value pair, so that when it’s queried against, a slew of information returns — information that actually tells others about who you are.

Querying my NFT name (call it — jimmy.crypto) returns my Twitter account, LinkedIn, my DOB, citizenship, etc. — kind of like a LinkTree but decentralized and user-owned rather than a company hosting and owning your identity.

NFT names will replace Linktree

And this NFT user name (I’m going to switch to just calling it decentralized identity) encrypts all of its underlying information, so the individual can grant permission to only certain people to read sensitive information / PII.

Public information like your Twitter handle can be exposed to anyone who queries the decentralized identity.

But let’s say you want to buy digital beer in the Metaverse, and the legal age is 21. You show up to the digital liquor store, and the digital cashier asks for your ID.

She pings your decentralized identity and asks if you’re over 21. Instead of returning your DOB, you just return a simple “Yes/No” answer — thinking that it’s unnecessary for her to know exactly how old you are.

Another example if if you want to fly (i.e., teleport) to digital Paris from digital New York. At digital customs at the digital Paris airport, the digital customs officer asks if you have permission to enter. He queries your decentralized name and it returns “Yes, I have permission”. He doesn’t need to know your DOB or even your nationality; however, it can log into an encrypted system for digital France to look at later. That specific officer just didn’t need to know.

The best part is that you don’t have to be who you were IRL in the Metaverse.

Just like in Spy Kids 3D or Ready Player One, you can be whoever you truly want to be, and having a decentralized identity should enable that — not restrict you to your IRL identity.

MetaKovan, the purchaser of the $69 million NFT, called pseudonyms an “exosuit” not a “mask”. People aren’t hiding who they are online, they’re powering themselves up — making themselves who they want to be in a world without any constraints.

Balaji Srinivasan, a notable crypto entrepreneur, went on the Tim Ferriss Show and talked about a true pseudonymous world — in order to not expose our IRL selves to any IRL harm due to what we did in the digital world (e.g., getting death threats for posting something on Twitter).

Many prominent crypto devs like 0xMaki choose to stay pseudonymous — in the spirit of crypto where its creator Satoshi Nakomoto is also not doxxed.

Even if the crypto industry needs to comply with international financial regulations like KYC, decentralized identities can easily enable that in a secure way.

Currently, PII from the KYC process is stored in the centralized servers of banks and crypto exchanges. This information can get leaked to the public if these centralized databases ever get hacked or compromised.

With decentralized identities, that can never happen because the PII is encrypted in the blockchain and can only be accessed with the private key that the individual owns — meaning that there’s no central place to store this information and that no company (or really anyone) can access this information.

Decentralized identities provide permissioned PII without the fear of it leaking to the world — using the same principles as how Bitcoin can be sent from one address to another without being compromised in the middle.

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Decentralized Identity Starts With Owning Your Name was originally published in Coinmonks on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.